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How do you clean an anxious dog?

Why is my dog so anxious?

Dogs can become anxious for a variety of reasons. Some common causes of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Separation anxiety – Dogs with separation anxiety become very distressed when left alone.
  • Fear-based anxiety – Loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, and unfamiliar environments can trigger anxious behaviors.
  • Age-related anxiety – Senior dogs may develop anxiety due to cognitive decline or medical conditions.
  • Boredom or lack of exercise – Dogs need daily exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Trauma – Past abuse, neglect, or traumatic experiences can cause lasting anxiety issues.

If your dog is displaying anxious behaviors like pacing, panting, whining, hiding, destructive chewing, or inappropriate urination/defecation, talk to your veterinarian. They can help identify the underlying cause and recommend treatment options, like behavior modification training, medication, or environmental changes.

How to clean an anxious dog

Bathing and grooming can be very stressful for anxious dogs. Here are some tips for cleaning your anxious dog as calmly as possible:

Choose a quiet location

Pick a spot away from busy household activity to bathe or brush your dog. This might be a bathroom, laundry room, or a cordoned off section of the kitchen. Keep children and other pets away to minimize distractions.

Use calming aids

Consider using synthetic dog appeasing pheromones, calming treats, or calming essential oils to help relax your dog during grooming. These products mimic natural chemicals dogs produce to comfort themselves. Talk to your veterinarian first before using over-the-counter anti-anxiety medication.

Go slowly and be patient

Moving slowly and letting your dog adjust at their own pace is key. Be patient and speak in a calm, soothing voice throughout the process. Never punish or scold anxious behaviors, as this can worsen anxiety over the long term. Praise and reward your dog for tolerating handling.

Use treats and praise as positive reinforcement

Food motivation and positive reinforcement can help make grooming more enjoyable. Use tiny pieces of your dog’s favorite treats to reward calm behavior and cooperation. Verbally praise your dog frequently.

Start small

Begin handling sessions by briefly touching your dog’s paws, ears, and other areas to get them comfortable with human touch. Slowly work up to full brushing and bathing over multiple sessions. Take breaks if your dog seems overwhelmed.

Use the right grooming tools

Choose grooming tools designed for sensitive, anxious dogs. Try massage mitts, soft bristle brushes, and bath gloves. Avoid metal pin brushes or high-powered dryers that make loud noises. Always brush gently and avoid pulling on knots.

Try appeasing scents

The scent from oils like lavender, chamomile, and vetiver can have a calming effect on dogs. Put a few drops of diluted essential oil on a bandana for your dog to sniff during grooming.

Ask for help

If your dog won’t let you brush or bathe them, ask someone else they trust for help. Alternatively, work with a professional groomer experienced in handling anxious dogs. Some groomers even make house calls.

Step-by-step bathing instructions

Follow these step-by-step instructions for bathing an anxious dog:

  1. Fill the tub with a few inches of lukewarm water.
  2. Place a rubber mat or towel on the bottom for traction.
  3. Use a hose or pitcher to wet your dog while speaking soothingly.
  4. Apply a sensitive skin dog shampoo and lather with a bath mitt.
  5. Rinse thoroughly to avoid residue irritation.
  6. Lift your dog from the tub and wrap in a towel immediately.
  7. Gently pat dry and give treats and praise.
  8. Blow dry on a low warm setting if needed.
  9. Brush your dog after bathing to remove loose hair.

Go slowly, offer frequent encouragement and breaks, and make the experience as calm as possible. Never force your anxious dog to accept handling. That will only make the anxiety worse.

Step-by-step brushing instructions

Here are step-by-step instructions for calmly brushing an anxious dog:

  1. Start with short sessions of just a few brush strokes over multiple days.
  2. Use a very soft bristle brush or grooming glove and brush gently.
  3. Begin by stroking your dog’s shoulders, back, and chest where there’s no matting.
  4. Gradually work up to brushing legs, belly, and other sensitive areas.
  5. Always brush in the direction of hair growth to avoid pulling.
  6. Untangle mats very slowly using your fingers or a dematting comb.
  7. Give tasty treats throughout and verbal praise.
  8. Stop immediately if your dog seems distressed.

Regular brushing in short, positive sessions can help desensitize an anxious dog and make grooming less stressful over time. But never force it if your dog remains highly anxious.

What if my dog won’t let me groom them?

If your anxious dog absolutely refuses handling or can’t be groomed without becoming dangerously aggressive, seek professional help. Here are some options:

  • Ask your veterinarian for medication to calm your dog during grooming.
  • Hire a mobile groomer who can groom your dog at home.
  • Enroll your dog in a group or private training class focused on handling desensitization.
  • Consult a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer for customized behavior modification.
  • Purchase calming sprays or wipes you can apply right before grooming at home.

In extreme cases, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or recommend a groomer who uses light sedation. But the goal should always be to gradually desensitize your dog and make grooming less stressful.

How to clean different parts of an anxious dog

Here are tips for cleaning specific parts of an anxious dog’s body:


Use a warm, damp washcloth to gently wipe around your dog’s eyes, lips, and facial folds. Wipe tears or eye discharge daily with separate cloths. Use dog eye wipes if needed. Reward with treats for tolerating face handling.


Gently wipe inside and under ears with ear wipes or cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Never insert anything into the ear canal. Watch for signs of discomfort. Handle ears briefly and build up duration.


Rub canine toothpaste onto your dog’s teeth and gums with a finger brush or very soft toothbrush. Start with just their front teeth and work up to brushing the sides. Give praise and treats to make it enjoyable.


Bathe paws in a basin of warm water and dog shampoo to clean between toes and pads. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Slowly build up handling time as your dog adjusts. Trim nails carefully with blunt nail clippers.


Use pet wipes or warm washcloths to gently clean your dog’s belly and private areas when needed. Lift gently and go slowly if your dog dislikes having their belly touched. Keep sessions brief at first.

Under tail

Fold tail gently upward and use unscented baby wipes to clean the area around your dog’s anus and genitals. Reward your dog for tolerating this sensitive area being handled.

Summary of tips for cleaning anxious dogs
Body Part Cleaning Tips
Face Wipe with warm, damp washcloth. Use separate cloths for eyes and mouth.
Ears Gently wipe outer ears with cleaner. Never insert deeper.
Teeth Rub canine toothpaste onto teeth and gums.
Paws Bathe in warm water and dog shampoo. Trim nails carefully.
Belly Wipe gently with pet wipes or warm washcloths.
Under tail Lift tail and wipe gently with unscented baby wipes.


Anxious dogs need patient, gradual desensitization to grooming. Make sessions rewarding with praise, treats, and favorite toys. Professional help from trainers, behaviorists, and groomers can be invaluable if anxiety is severe. With time and positive experiences, you can help your dog become more comfortable with grooming and cleaning. Proper care is important for their health and comfort.